The Minnesota Twins have been looking up in the AL Central standings for the past six weeks, but now they’re on the verge of getting back to the top.
The Twins look to extend their season-high winning streak to nine games and try to move into first in the Central when they go for the sweep over the lowly San Diego Padres Thursday at Petco Park.
With a loss to Cleveland on June 10, Minnesota (42-36) fell three games below .500 and dropped a season-worst 6 1/2 games back of the first-place Chicago White Sox.
The Twins didn’t stay down for long, though, as they have rallied to win 11 of 13 games since then and have pulled within a half-game of the division-leading White Sox. Minnesota can move ahead of the White Sox with a victory Thursday if Chicago also loses to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Twins last owned sole possession of first place in the Central on May 13.
Minnesota defeated the Padres 9-3 on Wednesday, rallying from a 3-0 deficit after two innings. The Twins have been overpowering their opponents during their winning streak, outscoring teams 52-16 during their longest run since they reeled off 11 straight wins June 22-July 3, 2006.
Shortstop Brendan Harris has given Minnesota a big offensive lift during the streak. Harris hit a go-ahead ninth-inning homer off Trevor Hoffman in Tuesday’s 3-1 victory, and added a go-ahead fourth-inning home run off Greg Maddux on Wednesday.
“I’m not going to say that they are just another couple of home runs,” said Harris, who has 19 career home runs.
Harris is batting .417 (10-for-24) with four doubles and five RBIs during a seven-game hitting streak after going 4-for-31 (.129) with no extra-base hits and one RBI in his previous eight.
The Twins hope to get another strong pitching performance from Scott Baker (3-2, 3.47 ERA) when he takes the ball Thursday.
Baker allowed one run, seven hits, one walk and struck out seven in six innings of a 7-2 win over Arizona on Friday, his first victory since April 9. Since coming off the disabled list with a strained right groin on June 5, the right-hander has been sharp, going 1-1 with a 2.63 ERA in four starts.
“You never see him get rattled out there, he throws strikes and he gives us a chance to win,” first baseman Justin Morneau told the team’s official Web site. “I think everyone feeds off that.”
Baker is 3-1 with a 4.07 ERA in four career starts in NL parks, and this will be his first career start against the Padres.
San Diego (32-47) lost its fourth straight game Wednesday, and has dropped eight of nine.
The Padres’ sputtering offense continues to struggle, as it went 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position Wednesday, and is just 3-for-26 (.115) in such situations in its last three games. San Diego has scored the second-fewest runs in the majors at 293.
Rookie Josh Banks (2-1, 1.62) makes his first career start against the Twins when he takes the mound Thursday.
Banks gave up two runs and four hits in 5 1-3 innings of a 2-1 loss to the New York Yankees last Thursday, his first career loss. The right-hander has allowed two runs or fewer in three of his four starts this season.
Banks seems to enjoy pitching at the spacious Petco Park, where he has given up just one run in 14 innings over three appearances.